"Comedian, alumnus returns to College for Q&A session"
The Flat Hat (W&M student paper)
November 1, 2002
by Meghan Williams


Last Sunday the College hosted a guest appearance of one of its own when Jon Stewart, '84, returned to answer questions from students in William and Mary Hall. The question-and-answer session, which was sponsored by the University Centers Activities Board, drew a crowd of approximately 2,900 people, according to senior Mary Slonina, assistant director of communications for UCAB.

UCAB set up an online form where students were able to submit questions. UCAB selected 50 of the submitted questions to ask Stewart as time permitted.

Al Albert, who was the head coach of the men's soccer team when Stewart played here during his years at the College, took the stage to introduce Stewart and detailed some of the highlights of Stewart's College soccer career.

According to Albert, Stewart briefly considered continuing his soccer career after graduation, but he "moved on into the real world,"Albert said.

The start of his eventual career path was evident even at the College, according to Albert.

"Jon's wit was famous within the team,"he said. "No one would dare even then engage him in verbal combat. None of us imagined he would take things to the level that he has, but he was, even in college, a very funny guy."

After relating a story of why he had come to the College in the first place, Stewart explained why he had come back.

"Some of the best people I have ever met, I met down here,"he said. "It was a different place than it is now, as I've talked to some of the students, a lot of the students here say it's fun. When I was here, I don't recall that adjective being tossed around."

Stewart echoed Albert's statement that his comedic talent began during his college years.

"This was the first place I developed my humor,"he said.

Four UCAB members took turns reading the questions, but Stewart also directed comments to other people in the audience who shouted.

For example, at one point a group of freshmen shouted out to Stewart and he held a short conversation with the group.

"You graduate in 2006,"Stewart said. "Oh, that's the craziest thing I've ever heard. When were you born? '84? Can I tell you something weird? I'm your father."

An ongoing difficulty throughout the program was names of buildings and dormitories that had changed since Stewart was at the College. Many of the students who had submitted questions identified themselves by first name, year and residence.

For example, one question was from a resident of Unit B, the house for Beta Theta Pi.

"Unit B?"Stewart asked. "What is that, the psych ward?"

At times Stewart responded to students' questions with questions of his own.

"What's the single most important thing I learned here?"he said. "Always wear a condom. What are these questions? What's going on here? We're here to talk, people."

A longer answer was in response to a question about how Stewart became interested in comedy as a career.

"I don't really want to bum anybody out, but college is useless,"he said. "I don't mean that in a bad way. I just mean that it costs too much and it takes too long, and you don't learn enough. But other than that -- it's really fun. The transition from college to life is an enormous one."

"And unless you really know what you want to do, I would recommend that you don't worry about it. It doesn't matter ... just get good at it."

"Whatever it is that you do, don't add to the suckiness that is out there. The world is filled with incompetence, and people doing things they don't want to be doing. Do what you want to do, and you'll get good at it, and you'll add to the discussion and the dialogue. If you do what you don't want to do, you'll be bitter and old and your parents."

One topic that Stewart discussed at length was prompted by a question about Greek life during his years at the College.

"Greek life was, I'm assuming, a lot like what it is now -- a false sense of friendship ... an abusive relationship under the guise of camaraderie."

According to Stewart, he was a brother of Pi Kappa Alpha for six months, but decided that membership in a fraternity "wasn't the answer."

"I hope I'm not offending people that are in [fraternities and sororities],"Stewart said. "I don't mean to be so harsh on [the system.] There are things in it there are good, but ... I was in Pi Kappa Alpha ... the letters themselves are meaningless. People are people."

Stewart then made a general statement about his experiences with the Greek system.

"My point is, as fun as it was to have parties in that house, it wasn't worth the pressure of living up to someone else's expectations as to what you're supposed to be, and going to meetings where they had parliamentary procedure to discuss a toga party,"he said.

During the session Stewart responded to a variety of questions, including whether he preferred boxers or briefs and if he would go to a formal with one female student.

The session lasted approximately 90 minutes and ended when UCAB members presented Stewart with gifts.

Stewart answers student media questions

Before his question and answer session Oct. 27 in William and Mary Hall, Jon Stewart, '84, held a press conference for the College's student media. Representatives from WMTV, the Colonial Echo and The Flat Hat were in attendance. The following is a transcript of relevant portions of their questions and Stewart's answers.

In your job, you mix entertainment with an attempt to report the news. Do you try to balance them at all?

Well, for the most part we try just the entertainment, cause we can't, we don't really have news-gathering capabilities. We really are wholly and completely fake. But because we're dealing on issues and realities and current events ­ that's the context of what we do, but we have absolutely no capacity to gather or report on anything and wouldn't even try.

Most of the time if we have correspondents, we place them in front of a picture of the places they're supposed to be at, but they aren't actually there, because we also have no money. We are a wholly and completely, 100 percent placebo news organization. It's very exciting for us. So hopefully it's all entertainment.

Some polls say that most students our age get their news from comedy news, like "The Daily Show."Does that bother you?

It's a crazy premise -- it's crazy, they're crazy to say that. You couldn't get all your news from our show, because our show wouldn't even make sense to you. Information in today's society -- it's such a blizzard, white-out condition of information. Kids get information by osmosis today. You can't go anywhere, you can't log on to the internet ... without absorbing a variety of information.

And I think what's relevant about that quote, or even that piece of information is that perhaps younger people are much more savvy to the preposterous facade that news and politics put forth as truth, and so they turn to any alternative source. I think that probably is a more relevant statement for that. But the idea that somehow kids get their news from late-night television comedy is absurd.

Do you think then that in addition a comedy [news program] is blowing off the facade and talking about what's really happening in the world?

No, I mean ... honestly, we're just pointing out what we see on TV that make us mad, and trying to make it as funny as we can. We have absolutely no higher social relevancy or goal. You know, if I really was wanting to create change and work hard, I'd be doing something productive. You know, I'd be literally helping people, as opposed to sitting in a room with my friends going, 'You know what's funny?'

You know? I have great respect for people that are attempting to implement change through actual direct work as opposed to me and my friends sitting in the back of the room throwing tomatoes.

Do you think that you are helping people in some way?

Yes, laughter is healing ... It's hard to say. I mean, you know, you hope that [you're] helping them in the sense that you're putting on a program that is entertaining to people -- that smiling is better than weeping, so in that sense, hopefully. ... But that's not our goal. We're much more selfish than that. Our goal is to have fun at work and to do stuff we care about.

How much of what we see on the show is actually you, and how much is the writers? Have there been any instances where writers have pressured you to do something that you don't personally agree with?

Right. Well, the beautiful thing about the show is I have the ultimate editorial say ... You want to exercise that control in a rational manner, because that has a lot to do with the morale of the staff. ... I'd say 90 percent of what we do is pretty much agreed upon. But a lot of that is, by the way, joke beats -- it's not necessarily context or editorial content. ... So a lot of it is the technical rhythm of humor as opposed to content -- but yeah, ultimately ... we don't put things on the show.

The shows bounce, they're a meal, you can't be didactic, you can't just say, 'This is our point of view ...' If the show wasn't informed by a point of view, it'd be meaningless, it'd be 'Dukakis? What kinda name is Dukakis?'

I have the luxury of being at the top of the pyramid, and if that's a lesson for anybody, a great thing to be is the boss. It's pressure in that sense, but it's a pressure that you earn with responsibility. ... And you take that responsibility -- it's my face, and that's how we do it. It'd be a cop out for me to say, 'Yeah, there's all kinds of stuff on there I don't agree with,' 'cause that's not the case, it's not true.

You interview everyone on your show, from Ralph Nader to Miss Piggy --

By the way -- the same person. Ralph Nader is Miss Piggy. Nobody knows that, it's very interesting.

Do you just run the interviews the exact same way or do you treat some interviews as more important or as more funny?

That's a great question. The interviews on our show, honestly, are a smoke break, quite frankly. I mean, it's because we can't ... the pace of writing a half-hour comedy a night is a little overwhelming. And it's a little overwhelming even to write what we write. So the interview is a time when we can all go get a slice of pie and some milk, and I just sit there and rattle at people. Yeah, obviously, someone like Ralph Nader -- or anyone, [John] McCain, [Bob] Dole, people in the public forum -- you have to have a certain amount of information to have a discussion with them, whereas with Miss Piggy, her policy choices are very clear. She wants to marry the frog. So as long as you stay on that, she's very happy.

But yeah, you know ... I've found that to go into -- we've had people on the show that, you know, ideologically I don't have much in common with, and don't really want to have anything in common with. Our show's not an attack show, we're not trying to prove anything to anybody, we're not trying to call somebody on the carpet. It's just a forum to have -- hopefully -- a smart, funny conversation, and that's that.

What have you been doing since you've been back in the 'Burg?

Man, partying like a madman. If it's not Paul's Deli, it's the Greenleafe. If it's not the Greenleafe, it's Paul's Deli. I basically got down here last night, saw a soccer game, went over to Coach's [soccer coach Al Albert] house, we had snacks, a couple of beers. Then I got up this morning, had a deli sandwich, and literally, in those 12 hours, did everything there is to do in Williamsburg. It's a great place to visit for a weekend.

When you make your movies, how much fun do you have? For example, in "Death to Smoochy,"you worked with Robin Williams, Edward Norton and Danny DeVito. How much fun do you have with people like that?

... Movies are surprisingly stale in the process. I'm used to television. I'm used to: we get in in the morning, everything is moving towards that one moment when it's going to be on. You've got that 6:30 deadline. Movies are, the pace of it is -- it's a 16-hour day, of which you work maybe 45 minutes. And the rest of it is sitting around while they twiddle with lights.

But it's awfully fun, too -- if you're going to sit around and fuck off with somebody, it might as well be Robin Williams. That's what makes it special, because as far as acting goes, I really don't know what I'm doing, I will never know what I'm doing. I just, when they yell cut, I go 'Did I seem mad?' And they'll go, 'Well, not really.' And I do it again. So, you know, in that sense, I don't get a lot of pleasure from the actual work of it, but the hanging-out's pretty good.

Will we see any more films from you in the future?

You might, right now through probably the 2004 elections I'll probably be pretty wrapped up in the show. You know, whenever something comes along, you never know, you never say never.

Was there any special motivation you had for coming back to Williamsburg now?

I keep in touch with Coach Albert and a couple of friends -- Mike Flood and John Rasnic -- who were on the soccer team with me. You know, I wanted to see them. But as far as allure, I don't have ... you know, college is people. It's just the people you go to college with. If they picked up this college and they moved it to Akron, Ohio, it's still your friends are your friends are your friends. So, I'm not a big fan ... not that I don't paint the feathers on my face.

There's a rumor that you didn't particularly enjoy your time here. Is there any truth to that?

How bad can it be? It's 5,000 people your age, half of whom are girls. It can't be terrible, you know -- it was fine. But I was a punk. I was 17 years old, I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and if I had been smart, I wouldn't have gone to college. Or at least, I wouldn't have gone to college right out of high school. I was a lost person. But, that being said, what a lovely place to be lost. ... it was also a very different place. It was very conservative ... there was still a little bit of the North-South thing here, very conservative. And I wasn't used to that.

Did people make fun of you because you were from New Jersey?

People made fun of me for all kinds of things. ... a kid at Randolph Macon called me a kyke on the soccer field. You know, it was just a different world. Not something that I was necessarily accustomed to.

What can we expect from "The Daily Show" while it's in Washington, D.C.?

We're basically going to focus on the midterm elections, because that's what the kids want to hear about. We're going to have a nice School House Rock parody of the midterm elections that we've been working on. We have a 'Welcome to Washington' profile, we have a 'So, you want to be in politics?' profile. And we have one where we sent one of our correspondents to trick-or-treat on Embassy Row, and so we watch him trick-or-treat around the world and ... the trouble he has in Iraq, you know, it's very interesting.


<< back

Copyright © 2002 The Flat Hat. All rights reserved.

main - pictures - transcripts - multimedia - desktop - links